Can A Man Be A Feminist?

Recently relaunched "pro-feminist" men's site XY has a lot of great content. But what's a "pro-feminist" anyway? Do men who support women's rights need a special word?

XY Founder Michael Flood writes,

XY is a pro-feminist website. It is guided above all by a commitment to feminism. XY is intended to advance feminist goals of gender equality and gender justice. XY is intended therefore to encourage men to involve themselves in personal and social change towards gender equality. It inspires men to develop respectful, trusting, and egalitarian relations with women, to promote equitable and liberatory ways of living and being, and to join with women in projects of gender equality and social justice.

The website offers a bunch of great resources for men and women, from an essay examining sexism in an anarchist community to a zine about rape culture and radical consent. In an essay excerpted on the site, Jennifer McLune points out that some men admit to and apologize for misogyny as a way of "repackaging of the same old woman-hating," and self-identifying as a feminist can sometimes be a way for men to abdicate responsibility for male privilege. It's always a little creepy when a man says "men are dicks, but I'm different." But XY appears to be the real deal — the writers featured recognize the influence of patriarchy on their own behavior and attitudes, and want to work against this influence both in their lives and in society.

So, can they? Can men be effective advocates for feminism? Given that men are voters, bosses, dads, teachers, friends, and partners, and that they still have more than their share of influence over policy in this country, we better hope the answer is yes. And the writing on XY is certainly a good sign. But can should men call themselves feminists? Julian Real writes,

A man who I consider to be profeminist is Byron Hurt, and I wish far more men were far more like Byron. In a comment he made to Jennifer [McLune] on her Facebook page, he noted how he's been challenged by feminists to also identify himself as a feminist because, for them, the term "profeminist" makes it seem like the man is not really willing to stand up with feminists, but rather will find it sufficient to somewhat passively support feminists, applauding from the sidelines. (I see the argument here, and once upon a time called myself "feminist" for precisely that reason.) Other feminists have challenged him to call himself profeminist, noting that men who call themselves "feminist" are far too often attempting to co-opt the various women's movements and struggles toward Women's Liberation.

He continues, "In my experience there are so few men who call themselves either that we really needn't take much time debating this." It's sad but true. Most men, even if they are progressive in every other way, balk at calling themselves feminist, and plenty of men who support equal pay and reproductive rights still think feminism itself is ugly, "strident," or lame. So what a man calls himself probably doesn't matter too much — as long as he's capable of confronting a problem that he might be a part of.

In his article, "Going to places that scare me: Personal reflections on challenging male supremacy," Chris Crass writes about confronting his own sexism after a woman in his anarchist group pointed it out:

It was tremendously difficult. My politics were shaped by a clearly defined dualistic framework of good and bad. If it was true that I was sexist, then my previous sense of self was in question and my framework needed to shift. Looking back, this was a profoundly important moment in my growth, at the time it felt like shit.

This process of changing a mental framework — and of "feeling like shit" — is something everyone from a privileged group has to deal with in order to work honestly and effectively with a less-privileged group. White people need to do it in order to work for racial equality, straight people need to do it in order to be LGBT allies. It's difficult, and it's probably the reason more progressive men aren't feminists — because becoming a feminist man means giving up the idea that you're one of the good guys, and recognizing that male privilege affects everyone, good guy or not. If men can recognize this — and continue recognizing it, as being aware of one's own privilege is a constant process — then, as far as I'm concerned, they can call themselves anything they want.

Pro-Feminist Men's Website Needs Submissions [The F Word]
XY [Official Site]
Going To Places That Scare Me: Personal Reflections On Challenging Male Supremacy [XY]
Jennifer McLune: On Feminist Men [XY]